Sunday, October 31, 2010

Creamy Pumpkin Penne with Italian Sausage

Haaaaappy Halloweeeeen! <---said in a spooky voice

Halloween was always my favorite holiday growing up (besides Casimir Pulaski Day--you Illinois folk know where it's at!) Who doesn't love dressing up in fun costumes, binging on candy, and having a costume parade during school?

As you get older, however, the ways of celebrating Halloween change. Fun costumes turn into slutty costumes, binging on candy turns into binging on alcohol, and costume parades during school turn into drunkenly stumbling down the street while in costume.

This year, my friend hosted a fun Halloween potluck at her house. I had no idea what to make! Since one of my friends already had claimed the always beloved dirt cups, I decided to look elsewhere.

When I think "simple, quick recipe" and "scary," naturally the first thing that comes to mind is Rachael Ray.

Normally, I don't put recipes on here if they are exactly the same as ones I find online. However, I will make an exception for this one. Rachael Ray's Pumpkin Penne with Sausage was unbelievably delicious, especially considering I normally don't like pumpkin or sausage! It was a huge hit at the potluck and definitely something I will make again.

So for today, I will put aside my dislike of Rachael Ray's stupid joke making, over-peppiness, tight unitard shirt wearing, ridiculous euphemism creating, and boring stories about her in-laws to give her mad props for this recipe. Grab your EVOO, garbage bowl, sammies, and stoups, and let's get cooking, kiddos!

  • 1 lb. box of penne. Rachel suggests whole wheat penne, but I hate whole wheat pasta.
  • 1 lb. bulk mild Italian sausage. They should have this in the grocery store, but if they only have the kind in the casing, just take the meat out of the casing.
  • 4 cloves minced garlic
  • 1 medium onion
  • 1 bay leaf. I didn't use this cause I was too lazy to dig through my spices I brought home from Durham. It's in the original recipe and I'm sure it tastes great, but don't knock yourself out if you don't have any on hand.
  • 4-6 fresh sage leaves (or 1 tbsp. dried sage). The recipe calls for fresh, but I couldn't find any at the store. Apparently fresh sage is flying off the shelves these days.
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 15 oz. can pumpkin puree. You can usually find this in the baking aisle.
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream. My friend asked me what made the pasta so creamy. Cream usually does the trick.
  • 1/8 tsp. ground cinnamon. What?! In pasta? Yes, and it's delicious.
  • 1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg. See above.
  • 2 big ole handfuls of shredded parmesan cheese
Yeah, yeah, I know this looks like a lot of ingredients, but it's really not. And it's SO worth it! This makes a ton of pasta, but it freezes great. This is seriously one the of the better pasta dishes I have ever had. And it's Halloween-tastic.


Heat a large skillet to medium high and crumble your sausage in it. I have never worked with sausage before and discovered it doesn't crumble as easily as ground beef. Put some muscle in it!

You want nice, small pieces of sausage so they brown well. This is the only time you will hear me request small sausage (har har!)

Once the sausage is browned completely, put it on a plate lined with paper towels to soak up some of the excess grease.

Peel and chop up your onion and add it to the sausage grease in the skillet. That yummy fat is gonna flavor the whole sauce!

Once the onion is soft and translucent, add the minced garlic and the wine to the skillet. CRUNK!**

**I have decided that since Emeril gets to say BAM! every time he adds spices to a dish, I am now going to say CRUNK! every time alcohol is added.

Add your bay leaf and sage to the wine and let it all simmer until the wine reduces by about half, or about five minutes. Then stir in your chicken broth and pumpkin puree until it is smoothly incorporated.

Let the mixture bubble away for another five minutes or so. While you wait, you can bring a pot of water up to boil for your penne.

Lower the heat to medium low and stir in your cream, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Add the sausage crumbles back into the sauce. At this point, you can remove the bay leaf and drop your penne into the boiling water.

Let the sauce simmer until your pasta is cooked, or about 10 minutes. Drain the pasta and mix it with the sauce. Add your big ole handfuls of parmesan cheese, garnish with some extra sage if you'd like, and dig in!

What are some of YOUR Halloween/fall favorites?

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Oven Fried Chicken

Once again, I must apologize for my extended absence. I will try not to make a habit of this!

This time, it's partially due to the fact that I was partying it up in New Orleans for the long weekend. It was my first time there, and my trip pretty much consisted of eating (and drinking) EVERYTHING: beignets, red beans and rice, barbecued shrimp, gumbo, po' boys, cochon de lait, pralines, fried catfish, shrimp and grits, smothered okra, etc. etc. WHO DAT!!

I have a backlog of recipes from my last couple weeks in Durham, and today's selection was inspired by my time in New Orleans: good Southern food and breasts.

(Chicken breasts, of course.)

  • 1 boneless, skinless chicken breast
  • 1 tbsp. lite mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup seasoned breadcrumbs
  • 1/3 cup panko breadcrumbs. These are Japanese breadcrumbs easily available in any grocery store. They add incredible texture to your coating!

What? Just four ingredients? YES! This makes for crispy, tasty chicken that is infinitely healthier and easier to make than the deep fried stuff.


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Whisk together your mayonnaise with a little bit of water on a plate to thin it out.

Mix together your panko and seasoned breadcrumbs in a separate plate.

Coat your chicken breast in the mayonnaise and then dredge it in the breadcrumbs, pressing them so they stick to the chicken and coat it completely.

Put the chicken on a small rack if you have one (to promote crisping on all sides). I just stole the rack from my toaster oven. If you don't have one, though, no sweat; just use a baking sheet covered in foil.

Pop the chicken into the oven for 20 minutes, and then crank it up to 400 degrees for another 10 minutes or so to help brown the outside. These times are approximate depending on the size of the breast.

Serve up your chicken with some mashed potatoes or any other yummy side of your choosing. The chicken should be moist and delicious on the inside and nice and crispy on the outside. Enjoy!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Shepherd's Pie

I'm baaaack! Did you miss me?

I apologize for this lengthy absence...I had a weekend of a visiting boyfriend, a weekend of drunken homecoming revelry, and then I moved back home to Illinois. I have been a busy girl!

As I mentioned, my boyfriend came to visit me in Durham a couple weeks ago with his two friends. Together, the three of them are out in Boulder, CO creating the most amazing, bad ass restaurant concept of all time: Sabi Sushi. Think Chipotle, but with sushi: fast, convenient food with the freshest ingredients, custom made to order. That's right, for the first time, YOU actually get to decide what goes in your sushi rolls! Check them out! (<----shameless girlfriend plug).
Anyways, I figured the boys have been working hard and would enjoy a nice, comforting home cooked meal. One of my all time favorite comfort foods is Shepherd's Pie. The thing to know about Shepherd's Pie is that it is neither a pie, nor does it involve shepherds.

Rather, it is a delicious, hearty casserole layered with ground beef, vegetables, and a mashed potato crust. If I may borrow a phrase from the Barefoot Contessa, "How bad could that be?"

  • 2 lbs. ground beef. I used half lean and half regular, but it really doesn't matter.
  • 1 packet Lipton's Onion Soup Mix. This shit is makes EVERYTHING taste better.
  • 1/2 cup beef broth
  • 2 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tbsp. tomato paste
  • 2 tbsp. flour
  • 1 package frozen peas and carrots. No need to thaw.
  • 6 cups prepared instant mashed potatoes. Just follow the directions on the box. They'll never know....
  • 1 large handful shredded cheese. Optional, and I left it out cause my boyfriend doesn't like cheese for some inexplicable reason.
That's it! This is a great dish for company because you can make it ahead of time and bake it before your guests arrive. Super easy to make, and it makes enough to feed an army. It also freezes marvelously. Cooking for one, my ass!


Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Heat a large skillet over medium high heat and put your beef in it (that's what she said.)

Break up the beef into crumbles as it cooks until it is completely browned. Now comes the gross part: draining the fat (eeeew!) Tip your skillet to one side so all the grease drains over, and spoon it out to discard. Believe me honey, you don't need all that fat.

Whisk your beef broth, tomato paste, Worcesesestershire sauce, and flour with the packet of Lipton's. Add it to the beef mixture and stir to combine.

Spray a 9X13 baking dish with nonstick cooking spray and lay your ground beef in an even layer on the bottom.

Spread out another layer of the frozen peas and carrots on top of the beef.

Prepare your instant mashed potatoes (usually just requires some additional milk, butter, and salt). Using a spatula, spread the potatoes over the vegetables to create the final layer. To help this mashed potato crust brown, you can rough up the surface with a fork. Or, if you are an awesome girlfriend like I am, you can write the logo of your boyfriend's company in mashed potatoes.

Sprinkle with the optional cheese if desired.

Pop the whole thing into the oven for an hour until it is heated through and the potatoes are nice and browned. Dig in!